Two brothers-in-law who were instrumental in the founding of the Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire Protection District died recently, both at the age of 91.
John J. Schmitz, who died July 12, was born in Plato Center; Bernard "Barney" Medina, who died May 21, was born in South Dakota. They attended the former Plato Center High School together, and lived in Pingree Grove most of their lives.
Both served in World War II, and started the fire protection district as an all-volunteer operation in 1947 along with Robert "Red" Druehl, who died in 2001, said Margo Block of Elgin, Medina's daughter and Schmitz's niece.
The district was officially approved by voters in 1957, she added.
"They fought in the war and when they came back, they decided to do this project," Block said.
Schmitz and Medina began as volunteer firemen; later, Schmitz served as chief and Medina served as board secretary for many years.
Schmitz married Gladys Lorenz in 1942, while Medina married June Lorenz in 1950. The sisters were best friends, so the two families spent a lot of time together, Block said. Schmitz had three children, while Medina had eight.
"My dad was of Mexican descent, and my grandma taught my mom to cook Mexican food," Block said. "The family would get together because the little German (June Medina) was going to cook Mexican food for both families."
Schmitz was employed by the Illinois Central and Gulf Railroad for more than 40 years, while Medina worked as an ice cream mix man at Borden's Ice Cream for 35 years.
Medina was a gregarious man who seemed to know everyone. He also loved art and passed that passion onto his children, Block said.
"We'd drive into town to pick up the Sunday paper, and he would know people and we would have to stop and talk. If we went to the grocery store, he would know everybody," she said. " He very full of life, a huge personality, quick witted, just a kind, kind man."
Schmitz was more quiet and reserved, known for always being generous.
"He was an excellent gardener. He had a beautiful garden in the yard. In summer he'd bring us vegetables and fruits washed and ready to eat," she said. He always smoke "a wonderful smelling pipe," she added.
Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Jeff Childers, who started with the fire district in 1980, said the "Founding Fathers" had everyone's respect.
"They were both on when I joined. It was a pleasure to be around those guys," he said. "They knew what they were doing, and they always told stories about the old days."
Memorials in honor of Schmitz and Medina can be made to the Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire Protection District, 14N026 Reinking Rd., Pingree Grove, IL 60140.